The intersection that marks the commercial heart of New Hope, GA looks perfectly unremarkable – at first. You can get an old fashioned shave at Pete’s Barbershop before picking up a few groceries down the street at Publix, or perhaps enjoy the cowboy stew at Rodney’s BBQ after a tough day at work. On Sunday morning you can attend services at the New Hope First Baptist Church, which stands across the street from the Civil War era cemetery. I traveled there recently, hoping to find the location of the old Southern 242 crash site, the worst aviation disaster in the history of the state of Georgia. But after driving up and down the main drag, I couldn’t find a thing.
So I parked in front of the New Hope Martial Arts School just north of the intersection on Dallas-Acworth Highway. I got out and looked up and down the road, but there weren’t any markers or signs. I returned to my car and decided to drive back to the old graveyard – cemeteries have always been an ideal place to begin and finish a journey. As I wandered among the Confederate gravestones and sunken granite markers my cell phone rang, the skies cleared, and my odyssey began.
It was Hugh Walters, my local contact and venerable guide. Hugh is one of the old guard, an unaffiliated Paulding County historian with a rebel mustache and deep roots in the New Hope community. He is a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he also belongs to New Hope Memorial Flight 242, Inc., the organization tasked with raising funds for a Southern 242 crash memorial. He had been observing me from the vantage of the church parking lot, and when I looked up he waved for me to come over.
After shaking his hand, I asked him where everything was. He looked at me with genuine amusement, and explained that we were standing smack on the spot where Flight 242 had first touched pavement on April 4, 1977 in a desperate attempt at a forced landing. He told me we were also standing in the middle of the historic New Hope Church battlefield. Back in May of 1864, General William T. Sherman came to know this area quite well, having encountered fierce resistance and heavy casualties on his way to torching Atlanta.
I looked around again. I was standing at the same intersection, but this time I saw the final approach that Southern Airways Flight 242 had taken just before it crashed and burned. Located directly behind me were the crumbling but still visible entrenchments from that bloody two-day battle in 1864. Unbelievably, the remains still ran straight past the old church and beyond to the graveyard. Everything was right here.
The NTSB Report
I needed to find a way to fit the pieces of this complex puzzle together, so I started with the National Transportation Safety Board’s Southern Airways Flight 242 accident report. The final report, dated January 26, 1978, describes the forced landing as follows:
The aircraft’s outboard left wing section first contacted two trees near State Spur Highway 92 (now Dallas-Acworth Highway) south south-west within the community of New Hope. The left and right wings continued to strike trees and utility poles on both sides of the highway, and 570 feet after striking the first tree in New Hope, the aircraft’s left main gear contacted the highway to the left of the center line. Almost simultaneously, the outer structure of the left wing struck an embankment, and the aircraft veered to the left and off the highway. The aircraft traveled another 1,260 feet before it came to a rest. As it traveled, the aircraft struck road signs, utility poles, fences, trees, shrubs, gasoline pumps at a gas station-store, 5 automobiles, and a truck. The total wreckage area was about 1,900 ft. long and 295 ft. wide. (Sec. 1.12) Wreckage and Impact Information
The dry language doesn’t even begin to describe the horrible toll of the 72 people killed in that tragic crash – of the hauntingly silent descent of Southern 242 after both jet engines flamed out – of the co-pilot’s frenzied search for a suitable runway to land the stricken aircraft – or of the rural community unlucky enough to get caught between a powerfully destructive force and its final destination…for the second time.
I have driven down Highway 92 countless times. It is stunning to think that these events happened on the road I have followed so often, and yet I was unaware. It seems impossible that these things occurred without some permanent mark being left by the Universe, some cosmic force of God, or nature! All those lives lost–so MANY lives lost, and not an obvious sign left behind. I am sure there is a marker for those who died in the Civil War battle there. They most definitely need to build a memorial to Southern Airways Flight 242.
I agree with Robin. There is no significant marker anywhere that tells the story of this monumental tragedy. I was inspired by the way New Hope pulled together and helped one another after the crash. Put up a memorial. PLEASE!
Cliff, great start, I am hooked! I can’t wait to learn more of the story!
You should read the book “Am I Alive?” by Sandy Purl. She was one of the flight attendants.
Read about Annette Snell, a young, black backup singer who went to record at Muscle Shoals. She boarded 242 in HSV to return to her family in NYC connecting in ATL. Her music is on You Tube. I read they were saying she would be the next Aretha. 24-26 years old. So sad..
Great stories. I have been in Georgia for 14 years, and I never knew about the plane crash in New Hope. Cliff you are a great story teller. Keep them coming!
Cliff–Thank you for the stories. Although I was there that day, I could only see from my own point of view. You are showing me things I never knew happened. My children will be able to read these articles and appreciate them now.
You were not only there that day, Sadie – the aircraft came to a crashing halt in your front yard! I will provide you with any new information I find regarding the crash of Southern 242.
I was a senior in high school in Rome, GA on the day that the tornadoes touched down and large hail pummeled our house here in Rome. I was in the house with my dad and sister, and she was in the closet praying for safety. It was only after the storm passed, which had also damaged our home, that I found out about the passenger plane that had crashed in New Hope, GA. I was only 18, and I had no idea where New Hope was. It was then I began my year long search for the site.
Thirty-six years later in 2013, I met Steve Burkhalter, the son of Sadie Hurst – a fine man I might add – and I began to explore the story of Flight 242 and watched the video “Southern Storm.” On July 28, 2013 I found myself on the way to New Hope, GA to view the crash area, and found it to be much like Mr. Davids noted. It was impossible to tell that anything that horrific had happened 36 years ago.
My thoughts go out to the families of the victims that were on the plane and on the ground, to the survivors, and to those who helped the victims.
Cliff, I was there the next morning as part of the DeKalb County Police response to the scene to assist. I had the second Command Post on the scene to assist the Georgia State Patrol with communications on site. We were parked right in front of the white house to the right of the main crash scene. I had never seen anything like it up close. I got an opportunity to walk the entire site during the day, just stunning that anyone even survived.
Yesterday, I was at a meeting in Paulding County, and afterward, I drove out to the crash site. I had not been there in 36 years, but the memory was just as vivid as it was that day, albeit a bit overgrown in the area, but there was no mistake where I was. I wish I had had more time yesterday to walk over the area, but time would not allow. I did get a picture of the marker at the cemetery on the corner.
DeKalb County Police Department (retired)
Mr. Woodward–Thanks for the comment. The next time you’re in New Hope, stop by Rodney’s BBQ, located near the crash site. Rodney has created a Southern Airways Flight 242 memorial photograph exhibit in the entrance.
Thanks, I saw Rodney’s BBQ so I will make sure I stop in there sometime.
Thank you for this posting! I now live in the old Burkhalter house, right where the plane crashed. I remember the neighbors and their painful healing. RIP for all of the dear ones!
I remember it very well. My best friend, Bryan Bray, was an orderly at Kennestone Hospital and he somehow ended up going to the site to help within an hour or so after the crash. I know Bo Pounds sent several ambulances out there (Metro) and Bryan rode on one of those. He was very descriptive to me/us in what he saw there. Thank you for posting the photos and story. Bryan drowned in Lake Allatoona just shortly after this on June 5, 1977.
I also remember this day very well. I was 8-years-old and they had the road blocked. We stayed tuned to the TV and any updates that came out that afternoon. My family knew some of the people on the ground that were killed. I drive down the same stretch road every day, and not one day goes by that I dont think of the ones that were lost in that crash.
My grandparents, Mallie and Annie Lou Pickett, lived in the house between Newman’s Store and the Volunteer Fire Department. I remember that day all too well because I also lost family in the crash. It’s hard to be up there and not think about it.
I worked for Douglas County EMC when this crash happened. I was on call that day, and we got there about 30 minutes after the crash. All I can say it was a very gruesome site.
I remember hearing about that crash, but after all these years had no idea that I have passed by this location so many times and didn’t realize it. Sad day for many people.
I will never forget that day. My uncle Lyone Abney was in Newman’s store and helped tear boards off the back door to get people out. His car was crushed in the parking lot beside the family that died in their car. The plane went over my mother’s car as we were pulling out of my grandmother’s house across from the New Hope Elementary School (WC Abney Elementary).
My father worked for the Cobb County Fire Deptment and helped with the identification of bodies on the ground after the crash. When he came home that morning he called the family together for a group hug. I was 14 years old and wanted no part of it, but dad was not a man to ask you twice, and he held us all for a few moments. My mom asked what had happened, and dad told us where he had been and a little of what he had done at the crash site. The last thing dad said about the crash was “The pilot did a hellava job, he stuck it on the stripe, and if it had of been a little wider everyone would have walked away!”
Dad never talked about it again, until one day on a little road he and I traveled 2 or 3 times a week he said “He set it down right here, she started coming apart right there, and came to rest right there. And knowing he was going to die first, he was one hellava pilot….” I finished the sentence for him “He stuck it on the stripe, and if it had been a little wider…..” We have not spoken about it since.
I was 12-years-old at the time of the crash. I was at my grandmother’s house playing outside on a tire swing below a magnificent oak tree. I’ll never forget the sound of sirens for what seemed like hours, speeding off to who knows where. They droned on and on and on…
I was senior in high school. I heard Monica Kaufman say that an airplace had crashed into the New Hope Elementary School. My mom and I looked at each other in disbelief. Fortunately, that was reported in error. For the next several weeks, it was all that was talked about in our community. So many times I have heard someone say, “If I hadn’t been delayed I would have been right in that spot where the plane went down.”
I also grew up in Paulding County. I was almost 17-years-old at the time of the crash. I had begun to volunteer with Union Volunteer Fire Department (the west side of Paulding County). I was working for my dad delivering parts in Atlanta the afternoon Flight 242 crashed. When news broke that a plane had crashed in New Hope, I knew I was too far away to respond. But I watched as ambulance after ambulance from Grady, Metro, and DeKalb EMS responded emergency toward Paulding County.
I responded as soon as I could to the crash site, only to be turned away. The Paulding County Deputy would not let me in, even though I identified myself with Union Fire Department. He cited my age and not being 18 years of age. As I looked down Highway 92, I could see the destruction left behind by the crash.
I went on to become a full-time firefighter and EMT with Douglas County Fire Department. Some of my co-workers did respond that fateful day. They do not talk about it much. We in the public safety field see so much, especially traumatic injuries. I know the people that responded to Southern Flight 242 still remember the things they saw. We never forget those memories.
I went through New Hope not long ago with my wife, and my memories reflected back to my younger days. My wife is from Colorado, so she did not know about the plane crash. I began to tell her of the history. So much has changed in this small community. It looks more like a small city compared to the crossroads it once was. I can still see the images played back in my mind like it was yesterday.
I want to close with my prayers going out to everyone involved that day.
Mike, I never knew you were at New Hope! I arrived to work with you at Douglas County Fire two years later, before leaving 9 months later to Houston Fire! It goes to show how most firefighters and first responders generally “Play it close to the vest” and don’t talk much about the terrible tragedies we handle!
I was 17 at the time and was working at my mother’s dress shop on Hwy 92 in Douglasville. I remember hearing and seeing all of the emergency vehicles racing up the highway heading towards New Hope. We knew that something bad had happened …
I was one of the firefighters there that day, and to this day, I feel that both pilots are heroes. That DC-9 was put down on the road perfectly with no power, and the skid marks were centered right on the yellow line. If not for the location of Newman’s store so close to the road, with the wings hitting the gas pumps and the building, they may have well landed the plane safely.
My husband lived on 92 Spur about a mile from the crash site. He told me he had planned on stopping at Newman’s store for a Coke, but the lot was crowded so he headed on home. He opened the door and flipped on the light switch, and the light came on and then went right back off because the plane had just hit the light poles. He would have been killed if he had stopped.
My pastor’s wife’s brother was a captain (I believe the chief) of the Fire Dept in Dallas. His first name was Johnny. When his sister heard of the crash, they headed that way. I beieve he lived in that neighborhood and she was afraid for him. She told me about some of the horrendous things she saw that day. I am sure the memories haunt them to this day–they would have haunted me. BTW, her brother and family were fine.
My god-father/uncle died on this flight. I remember my mom telling me about the crash when I was 6 yrs old. I also remember the Evening (world) News and our local (Saginaw, MI) news broadcast. He was on his way up to Michigan for a visit.
Rodger, I didn’t know you went there also! Another Douglas County firefighter who is very quiet about his actions. As a private pilot, I can appreciate the skill necessary (but never envision the skill necessary) to attempt to safely land a “crippled aircraft” with no operating systems in such extreme conditions!
My grandfather (whom I never had a chance to meet) was one of the passengers who died in the crash. My grandmother still tells me the story about how how he called her and told her he didn’t think he should get on the plane because he had heard that there could be some bad weather. My grandmother made the comment that the weather was beautiful back home (in Louisiana). She told him to go ahead and finish his business trip and she would be there to pick him up at the airport when he returned.
It was a devastating loss to my family. We have always shared the stories of his life, and talked about what a great man he was. I wish I would have had the chance to meet him.
I was 4 years old the day that plane went down. I have heard very detailed stories of the crash as my father Bill Pence was also one of the New Hope fire fighters at the scene. He told me what he saw, even down to the smell of the jet fuel. He said he will never forget that day and how horrible it was.
I remember that day, and the destruction caused by the tornado, very well…
The county at that time was also served by a citizens Civil Defense group that had trained for the event of a plane crash only the month before. It was a rural search we trained for, and not on the scale we faced in the New Hope crash, but the training did help give us a basis for what to do. We had none of the modern tools available today. That’s why there was sheets of plywood used for transporting viictims to the roadway for transport to the morgue. Only when the funeral homes in the area and neighboring counties were able to send body bags did we have a proper way to transport bodies.
All in all, the scene went amazingly well, with people that had never really worked together doing what had to be done. Most of the community Volunteer Fire Departments had been independently formed less then 2 years before. We created the County Volunteer Fire Department in 1980.
Our family had lived a little further down from the crash site (1974-76), but had moved in 1976. We knew a number of the people mentioned from the New Hope side of things. We were friends with the Burkhalters and I remember their house well. I believe we have some old 8mm home movies of that stretch of road–before the crash, of course. I would have to check. Thank you for your post and the photos.
I was on my way home from Arkansas with my grandparents and my aunt on the day of the crash. I was nine years old at the time, and we had to stop a couple of miles from New Hope because I had found a tick on me, so we were stopped maybe 15-20 minutes. We saw the black smoke and then the traffic started backing up. My grandfather, who was I believe the Assistant Chief for Cobb County PD at the time, stopped an officer to see what had happened and what he could do to help. It was a terrible scene that I have never forgotten.
I was a student at New Hope Elementary at the time of the crash. We lived on Dragstrip Rd. (now East Paulding Dr). We were actually driving towards New Hope when it happened, so we drove right up on it. I am now 50 yrs old and still remember the sights and smells very vividly. I remember staying with my mom at the church while she helped prepare meals for the first responders. All of this is something I will never forget – I had horrible nightmares for a long time. I still hate flying!
I served on the Flight 242 Memorial Committee for a couple of years. There is a permanent memorial at New Hope Cemetery. The committee is working to raise money for a larger memorial. They also organize a memorial service every year at New Hope First Baptist Church.
I also lived off Dragstrip Road, and I remember that day well. I attended New Hope Elementary at the time. They used our school buses to transport the survivors and our lunch tables to gather the remains of the victims. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I think about it a lot, even ’til this day. I also remember they put a wreath in Steve’s yard in memory of those who lost their lives.
My uncle, Phillip Inzina, was killed in this crash. He was employed with International Paper and was doing business for them.
RIP UNCLE PHILLIP. Loved and missed always.
My great uncle Romy Smith was one of the passengers that died in the crash. I didn’t find out about the crash and how he died until a few years ago. He was my daddy’s favorite uncle, and I wish I could have met him. My mother was pregnant with me when the crash happened and my family never really talked about it. I think my mother said he was traveling with his girlfriend, and they both lost their lives.
It was a very sad event for everyone involved – I can’t imagine the horror of it all. I pray that they died quickly and didn’t suffer, but I’m not sure if that was the case.
MICHAEL PATE My sister and I were there on that sad day. There was so much despair and so much death. Never before and never after have I seen anything worse in person…